By Geoff Kirbyson Aside from the odd player on the opposition bench and a few on the home side, Gabe Langlois is the best-known person at every Winnipeg Jets home game. Known simply as ‘Dancing Gabe,’ the 51-year-old has ingrained himself in Winnipeg’s sporting culture over the past quarter century for his unparalleled fandom and his unmatched dancing skills. Whether it’s the Jets, the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes or high school sporting events around town, Langlois is there, showing off a soft sneaker whenever the music plays. You want popularity? Cults would kill to have the following he has. Consider the fans who gathered at the intersection of Portage and Main in Winnipeg to celebrate the return of the NHL in May 2011. When Langlois joined the throng, the chants of “Go, Jets, Go!” were quickly replaced by “Gabe, Gabe, Gabe!” and he was mobbed for pictures and high fives.
As is often the case, the legend was pretty much born by accident. Langlois, who has a condition his mother considers to be autism, was spotted dancing at a sporting event in the early 1990s by Jets executive Mike O’Hearn, who gave him a jersey. The rest is Winnipeg sporting history. “Then, boom, I was on national television, TSN,” Langlois said.
Just like the players, Dancing Gabe has a game-day routine. He eats dinner at the St. Vital home he shares with his mother in the suburbs, grabs his favorite jersey out of his closet (he has more than a dozen from various Winnipeg teams) and hops on the bus for the 20-minute trip to the MTS Centre. During the quiet ride, the only words that rise above the din of the engine are “Hi, Gabe,” as a new passenger boards and an enthusiastic “Hi!” in response. He passes the media entrance more than an hour before the opening faceoff, but there’s no need to flash his credentials, which he proudly wears around his neck. He makes his way into the main concourse, buys a large popcorn and bottle of water and sits in the stands for the pre-game videos and warmup.
And when the puck drops, it’s go time. Langlois glides from section to section and puts on his moves during the musical interludes between play. Some involve an air guitar, some a 360-degree turn and others a fist-pump in the air. When he appears in a section, kids of all ages clap along, glad that Dancing Gabe has finally made it to their part of the building. When the music stops, he sits down in a nearby seat, if he can find one in the perpetually sold-out MTS Centre, or grabs his water bottle and scurries for the lobby to run around to the next section. When the music starts again, so does he. And just like the coach’s favorite player who gives his all regardless of the score, Langlois is no fairweather fan. He dances and cheers just as enthusiastically during wins and losses. Between periods, he gets the rockstar treatment, constantly slapping the open palms held out in front of him in the main concourse, as well as signing autographs and posing for pictures. But Langlois isn’t without controversy. A handful of fans resent the preferential treatment he gets, such as free admission to all pro games in Winnipeg. Whenever hecklers voice their displeasure, however, they’re quickly drowned out by his fans. Langlois was even a hot topic of conversation when the Jets sold out their building (for three to five years, depending on the section) in a matter of minutes in June 2011. In the old Winnipeg Arena, there was rarely any concern about him finding a seat if he needed one. But would the reborn Jets let him in? Would there be a capacity issue? Did the team figure it had maintained enough ties to the past already? The controversy was short-lived, as True North Sports & Entertainment quickly confirmed that Langlois would be given a season’s pass. Jets spokesman Scott Brown said the team wasn’t going to leave him “out in the cold.” “He’s been a loyal supporter of the Jets brand,” Brown said. “We’re supportive of people who have supported us.”
This feature appears in the Nov. 24 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.